Deception is Truth, Truth Deception


‘The postmodernist critique of Plato was anticipated in classical times in a celebrated story told by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) in his Natural History. Pliny described a competition between the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios during the 5th century BC. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so lifelike that they attracted the birds.

[Parrhasios] “But I triumphed over him by painting a veil so deceptive that Zeuxis turned to me and said…”

[Zeuxis] “Well, and now draw aside the veil and show what you have painted behind it.”

[Pliny the Elder] “Whereas Zeuxis fooled the birds, Parrhasios deceived his fellow human beings.”

Plato always maintained that truth and falsity are opposed. This idea is perpetuated in confusion arising from Zeuxis’ painting. But Parrhasios contradicts this notion by revealing that deception is the truth, and vice versa. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was particularly fond of this story, and quoted it in his seminars during the 1960s and 70s.’

– Kul-Want. C. (2012) Aesthetics London, United Kingdom: Icon Books p. 15